China has deployed search-and-rescue forces on the Nansha Islands in the South China Sea as a public service to the region, according to the Ministry of Transport.
The ministry said in a news release on Saturday that the Second Air Rescue Team for the South China Sea and the Nansha Maritime Search and Rescue Center have recently moved to the Nansha Islands to support local maritime emergency and rescue missions, and supervise maritime traffic safety and ship pollution in the region.
Maritime affairs offices for the Yongshu, Zhubi and Meiji reefs have also been opened, according to the release.
These joint efforts can help ensure safe navigation and the normal living and working activities of the people inhabiting the region. The undertaking is a public service that China is providing for the international community, and the nation is proactively shouldering international obligations and responsibilities, the ministry said.
It is a testimony to China's principle of peaceful development and being a responsible nation, thus promoting peace, friendship and cooperation in the South China Sea, it added.
The South China Sea is an important international maritime route as well as a major fishing ground. A large number of fishing vessels operate in the area year-round. The high concentration of vessels there has led to many maritime accidents.
Over the past 10 years, China has carried out 197 maritime rescue missions in the South China Sea saving 1,721 people. Nearly 96 percent of those operations succeeded, according to the ministry.
Some waterways in the sea are known for their bad conditions and had almost no maritime assistance facilities, so the rescue forces' deployment will reduce hazards for ships and ensure the waters' safety, experts said.
Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, Hainan province, said that over the past few years, China has built infrastructure on its islands and reefs in Nansha and most of it－lighthouses, maritime search bases, hospitals and schools－are for civilian purposes.
However, more civilian facilities are needed at the Nansha Islands to enable China to offer a wider variety of public services to the international community, especially countries along the sea.
"These services include maritime search and rescue, emergency medical aid and logistical support," Wu said, and he noted that a major goal behind China's infrastructure construction projects in the region is to boost its ability to provide public services to other parties.